Forging an impressive and wide-ranging career as a poet, rapper, playwright, and novelist, Britain's Kate Tempest has shown dazzling command as an intuitive wordsmith, approaching each of her disciplines with a depth and compassion beyond her years.
A spoken word performer and rapper since her teenage days, the London native has cited eclectic influences from Wu-Tang Clan to Samuel Beckett and Tracey Emin, and consistently backed them up, earning a Ted Hughes Award for her 2013 work, Brand New Ancients, and two Mercury Prize nominations for her innovative rap/spoken word albums Everybody Down and Let Them Eat Chaos. Tempest's originality and insight for human emotions have earned widespread recognition for her books of poetry and award-winning 2016 novel, The Bricks That Built the Houses. Leaning increasingly away from the more direct rap style of her earlier work, her 2019 album, The Book of Traps and Lessons featured a minimalist blend of gentle organic rhythms and acoustic arrangements.
Growing up in Brockley, South London with her four siblings, Tempest began working at a record store at the age of 14 and at 16 began attending the BRIT School for Performing Arts and Technology. Around this time she made her first live performances at an open mike held by a hip-hop record shop in London's West End called Deal Real, leading to several notable gigs supporting artists like Billy Bragg and Benjamin Zephaniah, all while she was still a teenager. Tempest went on to earn an English Literature degree from Goldsmiths, University of London and in 2010 formed the hip-hop group Sound of Rum while also launching a career in solo performance poetry. Between the two gigs, she found herself opening shows for artists as diverse as post-punk poet John Cooper Clarke and rapper Scroobius Pip. Sound of Rum released their album Balance in 2011, while Tempest's first book of poetry, Everything Speaks in Its Own Way, was published by Zingaro Books a year later.
Following Sound of Rum's 2012 breakup, she began to focus on her career as a solo performer, poet, and playwright. She completed her first play, Wasted, and in 2013, performed her work Brand New Ancients with orchestral backing at London's Battersea Arts Centre, which went on to win the Ted Hughes Award for innovation in poetry. That same year, another play of Tempest's, Hopelessly Devoted, premiered at the Birmingham Rep Theatre. Signing with the Ninja Tune-affiliated Big Dada label, she began a musical partnership with producer Dan Carey and released her debut solo album, Everybody Down, in 2014, which received a Mercury Prize nomination. That same year, Picador published her next book of poetry, Hold Your Own. The young talent returned in 2016 with her first novel, The Bricks That Built the Houses, a tale focused on class, race, and sexuality. The book was a success and went on to win the Sunday Times Award for Best Selling Novel. That same year Tempest issued her second album, a conceptual work based on seven residences of the same London street titled Let Them Eat Chaos. Like her first album, it was produced by Carey and nominated for the Mercury Prize. It was also published in book form. She was asked to curate the 2017 Brighton Festival and in 2018 was nominated for a BRIT Award for Best British Female Solo Performer. Another poetry collection, Running Upon the Wires, appeared that year and in 2019, she returned with her third album. Along with production mainstay Carey, The Book of Traps and Lessons featured additional help from Rick Rubin as well as a stark and foreboding tone. ~ David Jeffries, Rovi